Environmentalism and Conservation and How it Applies to the Sint Maarten Situation

Dear Editor,

Please allow me some space in your esteemed publication to try and shed some light on the topic of ‘Environmentalism’ and some of the academically established tenants that society uses to achieve environmental change. I find it important to make a distinction on the different methods which are used globally that constitute the movement of Environmentalism and Conservation and would like to highlight how they apply to the situation on St. Maarten.

Within the philosophical tenants of environmentalism there are three ways to bring about what should be the ultimate aim: the protection and conservation of the environment. These are all three different from each other but essential in achieving the ultimate end-goal and each has its own particular role to play. It is my hope that I can bring some clarity to these three methods: Environmental Activism, Environmental Advocacy and Environmental Resource Management.

Environmental Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, or direct environmental change. The various forms of activism range from writing letters to newspapers and politicians, political campaigning, rallies, street marches, and sit-ins. For a very long time this was the only way in which environmentalists on the island sought to achieve change and attempted to conserve the environment. Although this is an essential and very important component it is often ineffective in and of itself. The reason for this is that the starting premise of activism is one that is negative and reactionary. Although necessary, activism must translate into advocacy and subsequently into sound conservation management in order to be ultimately effective.

The most famous example of an environmental activist organization is of course Greenpeace. While studying for my Masters Degree in Amsterdam I used to be a member of Greenpeace. During my time with the organization I was involved in many actions focused on activism, the most memorable of which was the breaking into a coal-fired power plant in Rotterdam in the dead of night and planting 365 trees on the premises. Needless to say we all got arrested and the trees were destroyed but the action did result in opening the dialogue of the need for renewable energy which ultimately resulted in changing Dutch energy policies.

Environmental Advocacy is a political process by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Advocacy can include many activities including media campaigns, public speaking, and commissioning and publishing research. A prime example of an Advocacy Group on Sint Maarten is Animal Defenders which strives to educate the public on the plight of animals on the island on the premise that all life is sacred and all beings have a right to live a full and rich life. Animal Defenders also highlights the obvious fact that a country that protects its animals will ultimately build a stronger, more harmonious society and as such it advocates for protection through the lobbying for the establishing of laws that reflect this. This makes the organization an Animal Rights Advocacy Group.

Environmental resource management is the management of the interaction and impact of human societies on the environment. Environmental resources management aims to ensure that ecosystem services are protected and maintained for future human generations, and also maintain ecosystem integrity through considering ethical, economic, scientific and ecological variables. Environmental resource management tries to identify factors affected by conflicts that rise between meeting needs and protecting resources.

The St. Maarten Nature Foundation, much like its sister organizations in the Dutch Caribbean CARMABI Curacao; the Saba Conservation Foundation; Parke National Arikok in Aruba; STINAPA Bonaire and STENAPA on Statia are Environmental Resource Management Organizations. Although the day-to-day work of these organizations can include elements of advocacy and to a much lesser extent activism, the core tasks and responsibilities of management organizations is the protection of nature through focused management tasks using an inclusive, realistic and holistic approach. As such management organizations are required to work with both the public and the private sectors to ensure that conservation and development occurs sustainably. Therefore management organizations frequently enter into agreements with governments through Service Level Agreements and Management Contracts and very often play an advisory role regarding the ensuring of the sustainable development of the country and the conservation of natural areas. In other words, it is less the task of management organizations to ‘make noise’ so to speak but to enact concrete solutions to solve environmental issues on the ground. This relates to the establishing and management of protected areas (the Man of War Shoal Marine Park for example) and species-specific initiatives such as the St. Maarten Sea Turtle Conservation program. Management organizations, through the necessity to work with both the public and private sector entities, often come under fire for working too closely with wide sectors of the communities they are operational in. It is therefore important that steps are taken to ensure that these organizations are completely transparent. For example: the Nature Foundation every year undergoes an extensive external audit by a third party and its financial statements are public and distributed widely, including to the Ministry of the Interior in the Netherlands. My colleagues and I often joke that we have been practicing integrity since 2004, way before it was such a hot topic.

Having said all of the above I must again make it clear that all three form the sides of the same coin (that is if a coin had three instead of two sides). It is a trifecta approach to environmental protection which is ultimately necessary for a country with the issues that St. Maarten has. As with all things there is a need for balance and compromise, a balance which is reflected in the natural world, the breathtaking natural world of our country which we strive so hard to protect.

Tadzio Bervoets